How to Make Old Fashioneds That are Anything But

March 15, 2018

Being a great host also means being a great home bartender. We've partnered with Johnnie Walker and Bulleit to help you master a few classic whiskey cocktails, and put your own spin on them—whether you're mixing one up for yourself or entertaining guests.

Being able to make a good Old Fashioned is an essential life skill. And while it’s as simple as a cocktail can get—whiskey, sugar, bitters—it’s an easy drink to riff on, too.

Photo by Julia Gartland

Think of the classic drink as a formula, rather than a recipe. An Old Fashioned works brilliantly with any form of whiskey, not just the bourbon that most American drinkers expect. Sugar can be swapped out for honey, or raw sugar, or even maple syrup; the bitters can be changed, the citrus garnish switched up.

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Here are three renditions of the Old Fashioned, each proving that it’s a beautiful cocktail with whichever whiskey you happen to love (or happen to have on hand)—Scotch, bourbon, or rye.

Bourbon Old Fashioned

While pleasantly spirit-forward, the Old Fashioned is a super-likable cocktail, with just enough sweetness to up bourbon’s warm vanilla-caramel notes. And while you might think of it as a wintery, sipping-by-the-fireplace drink, there’s really no wrong occasion for the most classic of classic cocktails. For a slightly richer version, swap out the simple syrup for one made with raw sugar; a flavored simple syrup would also work well here. Orange or ginger simple syrups both are fantastic, or you can put a little spring in the drink's step with an herbal simple syrup infusion.

Scotch Old Fashioned

The heather notes of scotch are a beautiful match for honey, while a twist of lemon brightens the drink up. For a subtlely floral-tinged cocktail, replace the orange bitters with lavender.

Maple-Rye Old Fashioned

Slightly spicy rye is a great match for the warmth and spice of cocktail bitters, with maple syrup as a pleasantly rich sweetener to balance. Want to dial up the warm-spice notes of the whiskey even further? Opt for aromatic bitters, which have a stronger cinnamon flavor than other varieties, and garnish with a piece of star anise in addition to the orange twist.

Whiskey isn't just great for sipping—it's great for cocktails, which you should keep top-of-mind as you're preparing to host all sorts of spring get-togethers. Like where this is going? Stay tuned: We're sharing six more great drink recipes—including riffs on the Manhattan and the Whiskey Sour—all featuring Johnnie Walker and Bulleit.

Do you have any favorite bourbon, rye, or scotch cocktails? Let us know in the comments!

BULLEIT Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. 45% Alc/Vol. The Bulleit Distilling Co., Louisville, KY.

BULLEIT American Straight Rye Whiskey. 45% Alc/Vol. The Bulleit Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, IN.

JOHNNIE WALKER RED LABEL Blended Scotch Whisky. 40% Alc/Vol. Imported by Diageo, Norwalk, CT.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Evgeny Smolsky
    Evgeny Smolsky
  • fudegirl
  • wael
  • M
  • Ron Miller
    Ron Miller
Spirits and travel writer; author of Brooklyn Bartender.


Evgeny S. April 27, 2018
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fudegirl March 23, 2018
One of my faves is the Paper Plane: equal parts bourbon, aperol, amaro nonino, and lemon juice.
wael March 18, 2018
M March 16, 2018
Old Fashioneds are great for any base spirit, so long as you change up the rest of the mix to suit the flavour profile. Gin is great. Rum is killer with a good banana liqueur as the sweetener.
Ron M. March 15, 2018
Nice collection of recipes! My favorite twist on an old fashioned is a slightly modified version of Death & Co's Oaxaca Old Fashioned. It uses a mix of tequila and mezcal instead of bourbon, and uses agave nectar instead of simple syrup, and finishes with Angostura bitters. It calls an orange twist to be expressed and to flame the essential oils as the are released, but I have never been able to get that to work. My modification is to add a few drops of a habanero infusion to give it a spicy kick (I used a recipe from Dave Arnold's Liquid Intelligence), and also just a small pinch of salt. The habanero infusion is very spicy, but with complex flavors from using a variety of fresh peppers. I add the habanero with an eyedropper which allows me to carefully control how spicy I want the drink to be.
Deborah F. March 23, 2018
WOW! I love it! How do you make the habanero infusion? (I'd just float some Ancho Reyes on top of that, but yours sounds waaaaay better!)